Catalyst Celebrates Global Diversity and Leadership

iStock_000000292856XSmallBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Yesterday Catalyst honored three companies for their remarkable initiatives aimed at increasing gender diversity at its annual awards conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The three companies – Alcoa Inc, the Coca-Cola Company, and Unilever – all presented global initiatives that were then tailored to match local needs.

All three companies also produced results. Alcoa’s program, for example, increased the percentage of female executives at the company from 15.8 percent to 19 percent. Professional plant managers rose from 22.6 percent to 25.3 percent. And employee engagement increased from 52 percent to 70 percent.

At Coca-Cola, women in senior leadership rose from 23 percent to 29 percent between 2008 and 2012. Women in the immediate pipeline rose from 28 percent to 34 percent. And the recruitment of global external women rose from 47 percent to 50 percent.

Finally, Unilever’s initiative, which involves a high potential women and mentoring program with an agile working model, led to an increase of 16 percent to 21 percent women at the executive vice president and vice president level, a 27 percent to 32 percent increase at the director level, and a 40 to 43 percent increase at the manager level.

While the programs are different, all three were global and were based on ambitious diversity goals. They also had strong support from company leadership in building the business case for women.

As Coca Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent said during the Opening Plenary, “This is hard work. It doesn’t happen because you want it to happen.” Kent went on to explain how he experienced pushback when he announced the gender initiative, and it has meant continuous pipline work, bechmarking, accountability, and communication. But when business units with women leaders started showing better results, he continued, people began to get on board. “We’re still learning,” he added. “This is a journey.”

Global and Local

Laura Sabattini, PhD, Senior Director of Research and Chair of the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee, said the team had not set out to find global programs specifically.

“It just happened that way,” she explained. “But it was a great opportunity for us because what it did was show us three different ways of implementing global strategies at a local level. One of the things we heard this past year is that it is very difficult sometimes to expand a program that works well in the US to other regions, because the values and the tools and sometimes even the policies are very different. But in this case all 3 companies in different ways were able to do so by customizing the programs to the local culture.”

One reason for the global aspect of this program was the geographical diversity of the CEOs at the companies with winning programs. Both Coca-Cola and Alcoa are US companies, but Coca-Cola’s Kent is from Turkey and Alcoa’s CEO Klaus Kleinfeld is from Germany. Unilever, based in the UK, is led by CEO Paul Polman who is Dutch. All three have been strong supporters of their company’s gender diversity initiative.

Sabattini noted, “There was also very visible support by all of the male CEOs and all three CEOs are also global. It kind of seemed to fit that they were all taking a global approach.”

Strong support for the business case for diversity was also built into the programs – but in a way that was communicated very powerfully, Sabattini explained. “The other common theme generaes from a building of the business case, which is one of our criteria [for the award]. But sometimes companies can be more or less expected to do that, and this year we really saw that built in the communications across all of the companies.” Company and initiative leaders talked up the value of diversity from a business and cultural standpoint – not just within diversity conversations, but during business meetings with middle management and elsewhere.

Momentum in the diversity space seems to be increasing – and not just with those who are most affected by diversity programming. “We are seeing ways to involve everyone in these efforts and not just the beneficiaries of these programs,” Sabattini continued. “Getting more and more men involved in diversity so they feel part of the process is really the next move to make sure things change.”